The dissident artist Ai Weiwei has struggled with the Chinese government for years. Earlier this year, the conflict came to a head, when Ai was detained by the government for about 80 days. He was let go under the condition that he would not talk to the press.
Ai, known for his spectacular conceptual art, including China's Bird Nest stadium, didn't stay quiet for long. Last night, Newsweek published a stunning piece from Ai in which he describes Beijing as "a constant nightmare." It's a stream-of-counciousness piece, but it's clear that Ai is unhappy with an oppressive government that he says has sucked the life and joy out of the people of Beijing.
In one passage he writes:
I feel sorry to say I have no favorite place in Beijing. I have no intention of going anywhere in the city. The places are so simple. You don't want to look at a person walking past because you know exactly what's on his mind. No curiosity. And no one will even argue with you.
None of my art represents Beijing. The Bird's Nest—I never think about it. After the Olympics, the common folks don't talk about it because the Olympics did not bring joy to the people.
There are positives to Beijing. People still give birth to babies. There are a few nice parks. Last week I walked in one, and a few people came up to me and gave me a thumbs up or patted me on the shoulder. Why do they have to do that in such a secretive way? No one is willing to speak out. What are they waiting for? They always tell me, "Weiwei, leave the nation, please." Or "Live longer and watch them die." Either leave, or be patient and watch how they die. I really don't know what I'm going to do.
The piece is deeply personal for sure, but he also takes on government corruption, the unfair judicial system and the plight of China's poor. The Guardian places this piece in deeper context, saying this is a sign of Ai's "impatience with the strict terms of his release," and also "presents Beijing with a direct challenge on how to handle the country's most famous social critic."
The Guardian got in touch with Ai and he said that, indeed, he penned the piece and did not know what consequences it may bring.